Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a war shrine drew condemnation from China’s state media as Chinese consumers took to social media to call for a boycott of Japan’s goods.
“Japan has no future if it continues on its revisionist path,” the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, said in an editorial yesterday. The Global Times called for Abe and senior Japanese government officials who visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to be barred from China. The China Daily said the pilgrimage was an “intolerable insult” and called for the country to reconsider the relationship with Japan in terms of security, diplomacy and the economy.
An Internet survey on the Sina Weibo microblog service had respondents voting about three-to-one in support of a boycott of Japanese products. User comments include people urging a tougher stance against Japan to owners of Japanese-brand cars musing about the need to put up patriotic slogans to avoid vandalism.
Some Chinese voiced anger over Abe’s move when interviewed yesterday. “We have to closely watch his next move,” said Du Youmin, 64, a retiree in Beijing. “Chinese people must unite together and boycott Japanese goods. We should impose economic sanctions on Japan in some areas.”
In September 2012, thousands of people demonstrated outside the Japanese Embassy in northeast Beijing after Japan’s cabinet approved the purchase of islands in the East China Sea, named Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, from a private owner. China also claims sovereignty over the islands.
There were no protesters outside the building at about noon today. A vehicle from the People’s Armed Police and about a dozen other police cars and vans were parked around the compound which occupies half of a block. Uniformed police patrolled the area and a barricade was placed at the entrance to the embassy.
Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., which has joint ventures with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., fell 5.2 percent in Hong Kong, the biggest decline since July 3. Dongfeng Motor Group Co., Nissan Motor Co.’s Chinese partner, fell 4.4 percent. Trading resumed yesterday after a two-day public holiday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reaction to Abe’s visit to a shrine that honors Japan’s war-dead, including 14 World War II leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals, will determine whether Asia’s top two economies come closer to a hostile incident. Ties have frayed since last year as China and Japan sent planes and ships to trail each other around islands in the East China Sea claimed by both sides.
Japan’s decision to buy some of the islands from their private owner in September 2012 provoked street protests and attacks on Japanese businesses in China, damaging a $366 billion trade relationship.
“I believe that the Chinese government will control any illegal activity against Japanese businesses in Shanghai,” Hitoshi Nakamura, secretary general of the Japanese Commerce and Industry Club in Shanghai, said in an e-mail.
Last year, Chinese visitor numbers to Japan slumped 33 percent in October as tourists boycotted the country because of the territorial dispute, affecting airlines and hotels.
“I had planned a ski trip to Japan with my son but we don’t want to go now,” said Greg Cai, 44, who works for a Chinese airline in Beijing. “To postpone the trip is the least we can do to show our attitude about the whole shrine visit.”
Not everyone is in favor of a boycott of Japanese goods.
“It hurts my feelings,” said Jessie Zhao, 26, a court clerk in Beijing. “But it won’t affect whether I buy Japanese products as there’s no connection between the two.”
Japan’s Nikkei newspaper criticized Abe’s visit as being detrimental to its alliance with the U.S. and standing in Asia.
“By engaging in an act that angers Asian neighbors, Abe appears to be defeating his own stated goal of tapping Asia’s growth, a component of Abenomics,” the Nikkei said in an editorial yesterday. “Japanese business leaders have expressed their disappointment with the prime minister.”
Japanese automakers braced for a potential consumer backlash should tensions escalate after Abe visited the shrine on Dec. 26 . Nissan, which sells the most vehicles in China among Japan’s automakers, said the same day that it was “closely monitoring” developments in Sino-Japanese ties.
“Japan’s economy won’t collapse just because we boycott its goods,” said Chi Zhongli, 40, a businessman in Beijing. “Such an act will only fuel hatred between the peoples of the two countries.”
Media executive Lucas Lu says there are other ways of expressing his patriotism than to stop buying Japanese products.
“Every time China-Japan tensions flare up, my friends talk about boycotting Japanese products, but in reality, it’s difficult to do,” said Lu, 37, walking out of Fast Retailing Co.’s Uniqlo store in Shanghai’s financial district with a new jacket. “They still own Toyotas.”
In South Korea, civil activists protested in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, blocked by riot police, according to Yonhap News.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial yesterday that Abe has “crossed the final line” and called on South Korea to come up with “completely new ways” to deal with Japan. The Dong-A Ilbo called the visit a “serious act of provocation” to Asian countries that suffered from Japanese imperialism.
Back in China, retiree Zhao Xinbei is more concerned about bread-and-butter issues than China’s ties with Japan.
“I was born in the 1950s so I don’t have any feelings toward the Japanese, one way or another,” said Zhao as he struggled with his four-year-old grandson in a park off Beijing’s Finance Street. “These days it’s not so easy to earn a living in China. Who has time to think much about this sort of things?”
— With assistance by Tian Ying, Aipeng Soo, and William Bi